Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to express our love for the special person in our life through cards, gifts, and other thoughtful gestures.

Unfortunately, teenagers and adults sometimes confuse love with control and abuse.

Many teens in Rice County find themselves in relationships with abusive partners who confuse love with control and violence.

Often teens in these relationships fail to understand what is happening to them is wrong, and potentially dangerous.

Parents and teens need to discuss what a healthy relationship is, and what abusive relationships involve.

Educate yourself to recognize the signs of relationship abuse between teens, and show you care by intervening. Commit yourself to stop the violence.

What is it?

Teen dating violence is an act, or pattern of acts, that are abusive to one or both of the parties in the relationship. There are several forms of such abuse, including: verbal, physical, emotional, sexual, and behavioral. Sometimes the abuse is threatened – threats are still abuse.

Who does it impact? Why does it matter?

Obviously, the teens involved in the dating relationship are directly affected by the violence.

Next, we might consider parents, friends, and family of the victims and perpetrators most impacted. But in a real way, all of us in the community should be concerned.

There is a correlation between teen dating violence and other unhealthy behaviors by these teens; these unhealthy behaviors often continue into adulthood.

We all pay for the societal costs of these unhealthy behaviors, such as an inability to manage anger; an acceptance of violence in the community; alcohol and substance abuse; higher risks of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases – victims are frequently coerced into sex; and, increased depression and risk of suicide.

How to recognize it? Teen violence is often unreported and can be difficult to detect.

Possible indicators include:

• Changes in a teenager’s personality since dating someone new, i.e., emotional outbursts or becoming suddenly secretive. Be concerned if your teen becomes more isolated from friends and family, or their conversations with their boyfriend/girlfriend tend to be explanations of where they have been or what they were doing.

• Damage to personal property, bruises, or other signs of injury. Also, changes in clothing choices to hide injuries. Does your teen’s explanation of any of these things make sense or seem out of place?

• Constant apologies or excuses for a girlfriend/boyfriend’s behaviors should be a red flag.

Weigh Options. Many relationship issues can be resolved through the assistance and intervention of teachers, coaches, friends, counselors, and parents.

Your teen should not feel threatened, humiliated, criticized, powerless, manipulated, victimized, or unworthy. Seek professional help if the situation is severe and dangerous.

Get help and encourage your teen to talk to you or another trusted adult.

Remind your teen the abuse is not their fault, and that they deserve respect. Your teen should feel they can go to an adult for help without judgment.

A local resource for assistance is the HOPE Center at (507) 332-0882, or via the Crisis Line at 1-800-607-2330.

Paul Beaumaster is the Rice County Attorney.

Paul Beaumaster is the Rice County Attorney.